Doing Business in Bosnia and Herzegovına // An exclusive conversation with Israeli entrepreneur Amir Gross Kabiri

By Binny Binet

In March of this year, I visited Sarajevo, the capital of Bosnia and Herzegovina. As detailed in the Pesach edition of Ami Magazine, I met with the head of the Jewish community and saw the world-famous Sarajevo Haggadah. I also discussed the challenges and future prospects of the country’s Jewish community with the locals, in light of the fact that BiH (the abbreviation for Bosnia and Herzegovina) is a Muslim-majority country. While touring, I noticed a number of large posters picturing the Israeli and BiH flags that were sponsored by the local Israeli Chamber of Commerce, headed by Israeli businessman and activist Amir Gross Kabiri. My interest having been piqued, I reached out to him after my return to England to hear more about his endeavors.


Amir Gross Kabiri is a serial entrepreneur, philanthropist, activist, patron of the arts, head of the Mostar Jewish community, publisher and sports league owner who is passionate about Jewish revival in Bosnia and Herzegovina.
“I was born in North Tel Aviv into a traditional Sephardic family,” Amir tells me. “When I was 20 years old, I moved to Los Angeles to attend university. After the September 11 attacks in 2001, my parents were concerned and insisted that I return home. They said that if I had to die, at least I should die in Israel,” he recalls.
“At the time, our family business, the M.T. Abraham Group, was trading in commodities, mostly in the Commonwealth of Independent States of the former USSR nations. My father appointed me to run some business operations and sent me to attend meetings. I got a taste of what it was like to be an executive with a chauffeur and to fly all over the world; after that, there was no way I was going back to college. For the next few years I moved around a lot. I lived in Paris for a while, then in Poland, Kazakhstan, Azerbaijan and Russia. For the past few years I’ve lived in the city of Mostar, which is located in southern BiH and has a rich history going back to ancient times.
“My father put me at the helm of the business when I was only 25. I was very young and made a lot of mistakes. But in hindsight, I think it was a great idea, as there’s a limit to what formal schooling can teach you. If you learn from your mistakes and the harsh realities of life, those are the best lessons you can ever have.
“My paternal grandparents were from Iraq, having moved to Israel after the Farhud (pogrom against the Jews of Baghdad) in the 1940s. My maternal grandmother’s family was from Lvov in Ukraine. My maternal grandfather, Mansur Tamir Abraham, was from Aden, Yemen. He was a very religious Jew who came to Palestine in the 1920s. I remember visiting him in Jaffa as a child. He lived right next door to a big church. Every Shabbat during the church services, he would stand at the window with a Tehillim and recite the verses at the top of his lungs. He was trying to drown out the hymns. It gave me a sense of Jewish pride and taught me that no matter what and against all odds, we will stand up and fight for our identity.”
I ask Amir about his middle name, Gross, which sounds Ashkenazi. He explains that it’s an added name that he acquired as an adult.
“A friend of mine introduced me to a rabbi in Bnei Brak. Although I had always respected religious people, I was very skeptical until I met him in person. I was amazed by his wisdom and knowledge, and he became my mentor. For the next eight years I sought his advice and guidance in all of my endeavors until he passed away a few years ago. Out of respect for him and his wish to keep out of the public eye, I prefer not to mention his name. He was a big Kabbalist. One time, when things weren’t going so well for me, he urged me to add a middle name. He asked me to provide him with a list of possibilities, which I then compiled. One of the names on the list was Gross, the Yiddish equivalent of Kabiri, which means powerful. The rabbi chose the name Gross, explaining that it had a positive numerical significance.
“I try to keep Shabbat and always eat kosher. I know that one day I will be even more observant. When I was learning for my bar mitzvah, I was growing closer and closer to becoming a baal teshuvah. My teacher was fantastic. He taught me not only the rituals, but the profound meaning behind what we do.”
When Amir took over the family business, his plan was to diversify. Trading in commodities is very risky, with prices fluctuating and the market dependent on many different factors. The M.T. Abraham Group began to buy commercial property, particularly in Poland.
“Poland was lucrative because it was an emerging market. We invested in abandoned factories in the industrial city of Lodz, which had once had a major Jewish population. Many of the factories had been owned by Jews before the Holocaust but were taken over by the Nazis and then by the Soviets and the Polish state. We took over the sites and modernized them. For us it was a small victory, that despite the horrendous history of the Jews there, we were back. You can’t get rid of us; we are here to stay and to thrive.
“In 2020, we were offered a long-term lease agreement on the Aluminij factory in Bosnia and Herzegovina, which had defaulted. We initially looked into it from a real estate perspective, thinking that perhaps the buildings could be converted into housing, as there are many things you can do with old factories. But once I did the research, I realized that this particular region had a longtime history of manufacturing. You can buy machines anywhere, but the locals here have unique skillsets when it comes to the production of aluminum. This knowledge is passed on from father to son, and despite the size of the company, its workforce is very family oriented. Many of the employees had been connected to the company for decades. I felt that we could turn the industry around and make it successful once again.
“The factory also had another advantage. Mostar, where the Aluminij factory is located, is only a 20-minute drive from the European Union [Croatia], which meant that we could sell directly to the higher-paying market of the EU without huge shipping costs and logistics.”
However, taking over the factory came with a certain measure of responsibility. Aluminij had been a major source of employment in the region. After reopening the factory and making it profitable, Amir became one of the largest employers in the area.
“At present, the factory employs almost 400 people. We also have a few hundred subcontractors who are directly related to our production. This means that Aluminij is the economic base for nearly 40,000 people. Last year, our output was more than 3% of the GDP of the entire country of Bosnia and Herzegovina. My obligation is therefore not only to make a profit for my company but to ensure viability for the entire region. That is why I believe that it’s important to show our commitment by reinvesting in the company and its surroundings, thus keeping the economy stable.”
Amir is aware that the fact that he is a Jew operating in a Muslim country adds to his responsibility to ensure that the locals see that an Israeli has their interests at heart. It also propels him to promote Israel in the region.
“I never shy away from the fact that I am an Israeli. I’m very open about it, and I am extremely proud of my identity. That’s how I was brought up. But you also have to show that you are giving back to the community. In this country, culture and art are very important, which is one of the reasons why I invested in Mostar’s HŠK Zrinjski football [soccer] club. I’ve always wanted to get back into sports. People in the Balkans are very much into football; to some, it’s their whole life. I felt that by supporting the club I could enhance its performance and bring pride to the local community.”

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